Evaluating Consumer Products: Facts, Fraud & Opinion

Article first appeared in May 2018. I had to do some editing for content, clarity, and grammar…and practically rebuild it from scratch when the site crashed..


WARNING!!! This article is written by a cranky, frustrated, crotchety old man that would rather be working on his cabin or house. Reading further is at your own risk.  And there is a lot to read…WAY too much. But, I think I am important and feel people want to know what I have to say. And yes, I suffer from delusions of grandeur 🙂

I read some posts from other websites over the last few weeks that have really gotten under my skin. And that continued this morning. It just kept gnawing away at me till I had to say something. And rather than cause contention referring to any particular website or on any particular article/thread on any of those websites, I thought I would write my own article on my own website. That way I could focus on a positive subject that could be more generally applied to the aforementioned subject and more useful too. So here goes…

Background –

I spent over 30 years in emergency services as a firefighter; over 20 as a structure firefighter, over 10 as a wildland firefighter. Great experience! Through my career I’ve worked with some fantastic people, and some real idiots. I have had some incredibly memorable experiences like saving an infant that was only a few days old. I have had some terrible experiences…getting blown up one time in a house fire, and another having to pronounce a daughter dead. I’ve worked on-scene by myself in Florida, and on a team of nearly 5000 people in Oregon. I have fought fire in 20 or so states, onboard three different ships, and on two continents. All of that experience has helped me with a couple of things; 1) understand the difference between quality gear and junk, 2) given me a wide and deep frame of reference, 3) forced me to develop a keen “BS meter” when dealing with people, 4) learning the utmost lesson of “define the mission” when it comes to gear and equipment. Of course there are other aspects of life I’ve learned via my career but that is another conversation for another day…hopefully when I am less cranky.

While I wasn’t on-shift fighting fire I became a computer programmer and database administrator. I started back in the 80’s on the original Apple IIc and Intel 8086 platform…I even did some programming on an TRS-80 Model II. And of course we won’t talk about learning to program using IBM punch cards. All of that programming experience taught me to use logic, be extremely accurate and precise in my work when it was needed. One mistake and it didn’t run right. As that side of my career developed I learned “process engineering”. And that was an amazing set of skills to acquire that helped me in everything I did later in life.

For prepping…what this website is all about…I started prepping in the late 70’s, and really cranked it up to a whole new level about 15 years ago. How “cranked up”? Well, let’s just say my DW and I don’t have much to worry about for years and year and years if the grid falls apart.

Now, marry up all of the above and I feel confident in my ability to evaluate gear and equipment. Further, there is always an overarching principle to testing…valid and reliable. I won’t go into all of that but it just ensures that how you are testing/evaluating something is actually honest and true and accurate.

And yup…that is where the title of the thread came from. Too much, the majority actually, of evaluation of prepper gear comes from fraud and opinion and not enough from fact. So I figured I would write this article and maybe help some folks muddle through what gear to buy and what to avoid.

Why is that important? Because someday your decisions on what gear you bought might make the difference between life and death…your life or the lives of your family. So it is important to me…if I can help even in the smallest way.

And here comes the most valuable piece of information and fact of this whole article…all of this that I write today is MY OPINION. Yup…my opinion and my opinion completely and entirely. It is simply my viewpoint…worth exactly what you are paying me for it.

Facts –

Are facts actually “facts”? Ah, yes…and no. Sorry. Facts are fickle creatures. What can be true under one set of circumstances may not be true under another set of circumstances. Manufactures of products, including prepper gear, will only do testing, who’s results are released to the public, that shine well on their product. If their product doesn’t look good in one test environment, it is common for them to change the environment to show favorable results. So, that means I never, ever trust manufacture’s claims without independent, unbiased validation/verification. Doesn’t mean they lied as such, just means they have a vested interest (money) in placing their product in the best light possible.

Same goes for business owners who sell products. Actually, they have an even more vested interest in making sure the product sound good. If not, they and their families suffer financially…big time. So, any claims by a salesman or retailer I automatically dismiss.

Example: Years ago I wanted to buy life insurance. I bought a whole life policy from a reputable company and a really nice salesman. Happy! Well, some years later I wanted more life insurance. And found that it would be too expensive for me to afford at the time. A friend of ours talked to me about options other than whole life. He showed me a bunch of facts that made whole life look like nothing more than a scam. I did my independent research and he was right…whole life is a terrible, terrible product for life insurance. It only benefits the insurance company to any real degree and the salesmen financially…vs being in the best interests of the consumer. I bought a different product, term life insurance, cashed in my whole life policy, and was way ahead of the game financially and life protection wise for my family were I to die. Does that mean the salesman was dishonest (i.e. a criminal)? Not necessarily. But, the company surely was. And maybe the company sold the salesman a line of BS when they trained him and offered him a fat commission check to sell a vastly inferior and expensive product.

My point…while the company and salesman provided “facts”…they were only facts in the exact situation that they explained…when that was only about .000000001% of reality. So they weren’t true/honest facts in a way. They were very deceptive facts. But, yes…facts.

When you hear some folks talk about testing something, beware! I’ve done a lot of testing in my day. And depending on the test environment and the test process, they could be showing you only what they want you to hear.

I did some battery testing over the years. I took great pains to do “field testing” vs “laboratory” or “theoretical” testing. And there is a huge difference! I always dismiss theoretical testing. There is absolutely no relation to real life usage at all. Laboratory testing is often extremely accurate and very factual. But, to get those results, the testing only can be conducted in a laboratory. Those results can’t be replicated in the field. That leaves field testing, real-life testing. For me, that is the only true means of testing something…especially prepper gear/equipment.

Back when I was programming I learned quickly that I could get my code to work as required. But, the testing personnel would get a hold of it and it would fail. After this happened a few times I got together with them and had them show me how they tested the code/program/system. I was amazed! I remember saying “Why would you do that? That’s ridiculous!” And come to find out…that is how end-users would actually do something. Oooppppssss…my bad! Once I began testing my own code that way, real-life scenarios, did my code become top tier. So field testing as real-life end-users is the only way to really test something accurately and competently.

Misdirection is deception. This is a little more subtle…and yes, factual…although it can be very, very deceptive. Let me explain…let’s say you are looking to buy a widget. And you know what you want that widget to do. You find a widget that appears to be exactly what you want. But, then a salesman or company says…”Wait! Our widget will do XXXX! So it is a far better product.” That pitch might be enticing…might be, but probably just a slick sales pitch. To determine if it is actually a better product you have to decide if the so-called enhanced feature is actually something that makes a difference to you and to you defined mission for that equipment.

Example: Low self-discharge (LSD) batteries are the latest fad. If you are talking a non-rechargeable alkaline/lithium style battery you want a long shelf-life. Duracell is an excellent example of a 10year guaranteed shelf-life battery. But, LSD batteries refer to rechargeable batteries. You might be tempted to buy LSD batteries because it sounds cool. But, does the salesman or company explain that LSD batteries are inferior to a similar capacity non-LSD battery? Probably not. An LSD battery will not have the same capacity as a non-LSD battery that is rated the same mAh. Why? The same design that slows the discharge of the battery while it sits on the shelf also impedes the discharge of the battery when you are using it…thus, the battery is inferior. Is the company or salesman not telling the truth? Actually, they are probably telling you the truth but not telling you all of the facts. And then again, maybe they don’t always know all of the facts to tell you. So I look at this particular issue this way…I want the best performing battery when I am using it. I could care less about its performance while it sits on the shelf…that shelf-life thing means nothing to me. I want the battery to perform its best when it is in my tactical light or running my night vision. That is the priority…the mission. Not only does that mean LSD batteries have zero advantage to me…but are a huge disadvantage to me.

And here is the primary point in my case for “facts”…

You have to be able define the mission for the gear you are researching.

That means being able to clearly and competently say “I want this piece of gear to do X under conditions Y & Z.” If you can’t define the mission you can never identify the important facts that relate to the piece of gear you are considering purchasing.

Summary for this “fact” section:

  1. Clearly identify the equipment’s mission. Know exactly what you want it to do before you start to research it.
  2. Don’t believe anything a manufacturer, company, or salesman tells you until you can verify through an independent and unbiased source. A source that isn’t just repeating material that originates from the manufacturer, company, or salesman.
  3. Don’t trust anything but field testing by reliable, unbiased sources that you trust.
  4. Don’t be afraid to research something yourself and become educated.
Fraud –

I consider there to be two kinds of fraud…intentional and unintentional. The first comes from a scumbag, dirtbag, ne’er-do-well, criminal, piece of crap. They only care about their own interests…and that interest is almost always money. In my opinion these guys need quality time with a baseball bat…and I am not talking a softball game. The latter kind of fraud , unintentional, normally comes from someone who is well intentioned but uninformed. They have been taught, or learned, information that just isn’t true. They pass that along and they aren’t really concerned about what is best for the consumer (you). They are not willing to take the time to properly research what they are, talking about selling, or they may lack the intelligence to understand what they are saying is wrong, or at least not the whole truth.

Unintentional fraud normally comes in two flavors; outrageously false or not the entire truth. Both can be just as devastating to the consumer. Beware of both!

I won’t spend any time on the “outrageously false” scenario…you can figure that out. I will talk to the “not the entire truth” aspect of fraud and how it can be just a harmful.

Let’s say I want to buy a truck. I have defined the mission, rugged off-road use in rough terrain, under a load. I have a number of choices. Yup, the three major brands will claim they can operate in those environments. All of those claims are true. But, are they true to what you need to meet the mission for your truck? Having run a fleet of trucks for 20 years that require exactly the mission I stated there is only one logical choice. One brand has a great motor, probably the best, but the frame is light-weight and doesn’t hold up to rugged off-road. Undercarriage, including suspension, is very prone to failure in those kinds of conditions. Another is a fantastic road truck, smooth riding, comfortable, loaded with luxury options. And it falls apart under rugged off-road usage. The third option doesn’t have the best engine, but plenty good enough. Has a great transmission, but probably not the best, but good enough. It isn’t the most comfortable or the most luxurious vehicle, but good enough. Where this brand I am referring to excels is in its ability to hold up far, far better to hard rugged off-road use while hauling or towing a load. It meets the mission extremely well, far better than the other two.

So where is the fraud? No intentional fraud in my opinion. But, talk to a salesmen and their brand of truck is the best…always. Their job is to sell their trucks. They won’t focus on your mission needs…they focus on their paycheck and use their training to do so.

Another unintentional fraud example: let’s say you want to buy a water filter. You have clearly defined what you want. You are looking at several models. You decide between two for your final decision. Manufacturer “A” talks about all their testing and what it does and how great it is. It sounds really great! But, unknown to you, or the vendor you are thinking of using, the testing that “A” has done is all in the lab and not under real field conditions. Although they can produce lab results that speak glowingly of their product…the results come from the lab they paid to test it. However, manufacturer “B” has tested their unit in the muddy waters of Africa where it is used extensively…and they publish those results. And two independent competent testing organizations have tested it…unpaid…and prove the claims of the manufacturer. So which do you buy? Especially if “A” is the media-hyped and more popular brand of water filter! Is there fraud involved?

Summary of this “fraud” section:

  1. There are two types of fraud, intentional and unintentional. Both can ruin your purchase.
  2. Don’t believe manufacturers or vendors or salesmen…without quality, independent, unbiased verification of claims.
Opinion –

Dang!! This is the touchy part…but oh so important part.

Everything is opinion! There are no facts when it comes to evaluating prepper gear. Why? All testing is subjective. That means the person interpreting the results of the tests, or performing the tests, can sway all/any of it to meet whatever they want to promote. Not everyone nefarious of course, but many do, and all can.

The worst “opinion” is “group think”. That is where a whole group of folks feels the same way about something…and it isn’t necessarily true/accurate. You see it on prepper websites a whole lot. Someone starts it by saying “X is great!” Then someone else says, “yes, X is incredible!” then another and another and another…till everyone is saying “X is the best of the best and the only real option!” Than then some poor shmuck comes along and says, “Hey, I looked into it and X isn’t the best, Z is much better and less expensive”…Boom! …hammer time!

So, just because a whole group says something is the best or right, doesn’t mean that it is. I remember a saying somewhere that when you have truth on your side you are never outnumbered.

This “group think” hazard is particularly true in organizations such as the military and other hierarchical organizations. If the top of the organization says something is true, then everyone else normally wants to fall in line, be loved, not draw undue attention to themselves, not rock the boat, etc. I can’t tell you the number of times I have talked to firefighting peers and they feel “Y” about something. We go into a briefing and the boss promotes “X”. And my buddies never raise a question or objects or utter a voice of concern. Why? Human nature.

My dad told me more than once…If everyone is falling off the cliff, don’t follow them.

Here is the trap I fell into recently…

I wanted to buy a generator. I already own a Honda EU2000i. A fantastic machine, best on the market, everyone who owns one loves them…including me. So naturally I wanted to buy another Honda. Makes sense, right?

Unfortunately to meet my other mission requirements I simply couldn’t afford the Honda unit that would meet those needs. And not afford it by a wide, very wide margin. So, I looked around, read reviews, researched according to sound principles. And found a unit. Ran it buy a few folks on another website. Many disagreed with my decision and urged me to buy a Honda regardless of the cost. However, one gave me a reality check. Dang him! Don’t you just hate it when someone bursts your bubble and talks sense? So, back to doing research…thankfully. I ended up buying a Champion meeting enough of my mission requirements and extremely well priced. Good thing or bad thing?

Well, it meets my wattage power needs. It meets my “clean power” needs. It is capable of running on propane although I have to add the kit to it. But, it didn’t have electric start…FAIL! But, I bought it anyway. Why was it a fail? Because my Honda is a one-pull engine…every time. And everyone knows that only Hondas are one-pull engines. Right!?!

So I get my Champion…for a fraction of the price of a Honda. I fill it will oil, add some Lucas zinc additive, put some TruFuel in it, set the choke…and I am ready to pull it 4 – 6 times to start it. I mean after all, it isn’t a Honda…right?

First pull, brand new, first time with gas in it, first time with oil in it…BINGO!!!! It fires right up. Amazing…a fluke to be sure…yeah, right.

This is the break-in period so I am following their protocol exactly. About an hour into the process it shuts down. Dang! It’s not a Honda and here come the problems. Ah, it ran out of gas. So I gas it back up expecting it to take a couple of pulls to get it going again but hoping for one pull. Pull, nothing. Pull, nothing. Pull, nothing. And I am now convinced I am a loser and bought a substandard piece of loser machine. I am kicking myself. And then I look down…oh, turn the on/off switch to the “on” position. Pull, start…purring along just fine. 5+ hours later the machine is running perfectly under load.

Oh, but the Honda freaks out there are…”Yeah, but the Honda will last 2 – 3 times longer than the Champion!” Maybe, probably, perhaps. But I can buy 6 Champion generators for the price of the equivalent Honda. So did I do OK buying a non-Honda? Or not buying an electric start?

Avoid “group think” like the plague in everything…but especially when it comes to prepper gear!

But, there is a responsibility that comes with that…you must be able to think on your own. Yeah, again, sorry. And it helps to be able to employ “critical thinking” skills as well.

Should you become a “non-group thinker” and have a mind of your own…that means become an independent thinker.  The only problem is…be prepared to suffer at the hands of the “group”…you may find yourself not being liked, appreciated, or loved. You may be subject to immediate shunning or worse. And heaven forbid you cross the leader of the group. Then hell-fire will rain down on your head…you challenged their precious opinion and position…whether you are right or not will make no difference. But one fringe benefit…you will discover there are other independent thinkers out there…and they can be some pretty cool people…and they won’t be sheeple.

But don’t despair at all…every once in a while someone might thank you for advice or information you gave them. It will make you all warm and fuzzy inside and let you know life is worth living…even though you have walked through hell-fire.

Summary of “opinion” section –

  1. All evaluation of prepper gear is ultimately only opinion. Because the tester can manipulate the testing environment and outcomes, or simply cherry pick facts to match the narrative they wish to deliver.
  2. Think for yourself, and that means do your own research.
  3. Avoid “group think” like it is Satan’s fan club.
Summary –

I’ve been truly blessed in my life in many ways. One of those ways is folks sending me cool gear to test. They hope that my review will be positive and they will sell more widgets. After having written three prepper novels they think that the accompanying, albeit very limited, notoriety will somehow make them money. How sad they think that way. I have no horse in any race (or dog in the fight) when it comes to doing reviews. I simply want quality real-life information out there for my fellow preppers. Unfortunately, not everyone comes from, or agrees with, that perspective.

Use your discernment…A number of years ago I was testing a certain type of equipment. I kept producing and posting my results, and someone kept throwing a different product out there, ranting on about how their product was so much better. I say “their product” because that is the line they sold. Not only didn’t any of my testing validate anything they were saying, it was just the opposite. I found their product to be very, very expensive compared to other options. And top if off, their product was at least 1 – 2 technology generations behind the much less expensive alternatives. But their brand was all the rage in popularity due to group think.

Shortening the story…they sent me the product for free. I tested it and the testing validated all my previous results…it was an inferior product. That isn’t the point really. They gave me the product free of charge to keep for personal use after testing. Now, did they think that giving me the product would “buy me” into promoting their product? I don’t know. But, as I was finishing up the article on it, I had this rush of feeling to pay them for the product. It was the weirdest feeling…and ugly…the only time I ever got that feeling in reviewing products that had been given to me. I knew that I couldn’t trust them, I knew they were putting out false and misleading information, I knew that…well, they were not someone I wanted to “owe”. I sent them the full asking price of the product the next day in cash…the dark feeling went away.

What the heck? What does that have to do with anything? It means this…1) listen to your instinct, 2) listen to that still small voice, 3) act on those feelings. But, remember…normally those kinds of feelings come only after you have researched and pondered on the issue for yourself.

The summary of the “summary” section –

  1. You can figure out stuff on your own if you are willing to do the work.
  2. Listen to your instinct.
  3. Be wary of others (manufacturers, vendors, salesmen), they may not have your interests as a priority.
  4. Don’t believe anything I just told you. Figure it out on your own.

And, now…two and a half hours later I want to go back to working on the blueprints of the extension of the cabin that I will be staying in while I build our house that we will retire in. Well, technically I am already retired…but my wife isn’t. And technically, the “cabin” is also our “bug-out property”. And technically, I love doing any of that kind of work vs writing articles like this. But, I felt this was important enough to write about…and well worth the loss of the time in my life.

And since I am such an amazing self-sacrificing individual to do such a humble ministering thing…I am now going to reward myself with a warm gooey cinnamon bun covered in icing and butter with a huge class of ice-cold whole milk. Yum!!!!!

One final though…this is all my opinion on “Facts, Fraud, & Opinions” when it comes to evaluation and reviewing prepper gear. Take it with a grain of salt.

OKAY…one final, final thought…it is pure fact…100% fact…not opinion…that a warm gooey cinnamon bun covered in icing and butter with a huge class of ice-cold whole milk absolutely rocks!!!

 

 

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